Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Update on Kids Being in School

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Photo Courtesy of DigitalArt
I have been meaning to post this post for a long time already, ever since I posted 2 months ago about my boys starting school, after being homeschooled until now. People want to know- how are the boys enjoying school? How am I enjoying the boys in school? What are my thoughts as the mom of kids in school, etc....
And I've started to write this post so many times but something always came up. But today's the day I plan on actually getting it written!

First off, I have to say that I am very impressed with the school. I have nothing but good things to say about the teachers- my four year old, Ike, has 1 main teacher and two assistant teachers in his preschool, plus another teacher who comes in to teach them letters, etc... This teacher who teaches Ike letters is actually 6 year old Lee's regular teacher, and Ike's head teacher comes to Lee's class to teach him for an hour or so daily. The principal is also wonderful. Each of the aforementioned staff members are caring, dedicated, and concerned about the well being of each individual child, giving them attention as needed, trying to help them transition, and giving them lots of love. The kids also really like their teachers and think they're great. I don't think I could have chosen a school I could have been happier with.

But that doesn't mean the transition to school has been an easy one, either for the boys or for anyone in the family.

I was talking to my friend about my plans for sending the boys to school for a year to learn "Swahili" (the name I gave the local language), and then to continue to homeschool them again next year. She asked me "Well, what will you do if your kids don't want to be homeschooled next year? What then?" I told her that we'd figure out something if/when that happens, but the likelihood of that happening are slim. My kids would vastly prefer to stay home with me than go to school.

Simply put, my kids like being homeschooled, they miss it, and so do I.

Every single day, getting the kids to school is a battle.

On a rare "good day" like today, I get them to school with no fuss and no tears, on time... by bribing them (usually with junk food. Ick.) On a less good day, the morning is stressful, and the kids procrastinate and do what they can to make sure that the morning does not go smoothly, fighting me every step of the way, so that we miss the first two buses that would get us to school on time, so then we have the choice either of walking the nice 20-25 minute walk up hill, or wait 40 minutes for the next bus, which means we're very late... And that happens most mornings, actually. Those mornings usually involve lots of frustration for everyone, and again, involve bribing the kids to get them to go to school. (I gotta make some more "healthy" junk food so at least the bribes are healthy bribes.)

And then there are mornings like yesterday. When I pack the kids a nice lunch, get myself and the baby and the kids all ready to leave for school, and then Lee tells me "I'm not going to school. You can't make me go to school. I refuse to walk to the bus or to school, and you can't carry me and take Ike and Anneliese to school. I just am not going to school and you can't make me." So then I threaten him (not meaning it, but how would he know?) that "Fine, if you don't want to come, don't come, but I'm going to take Ike and Anneliese to the school, and you'll be left at home all by yourself and be very sad since you're lonely." And then Ike responds "I'm still not going to come with you. I'll stay home and be very sad, and will even cry because I miss you, but I still am not coming. I don't want to go to school!"
And then, of course, Ike joins the party and also says that he refuses to go to school. And since I have but 2 hands, and 3 kids, and no car, and need their cooperation in order to get them there, and no motivation will work to get them there... I give up. And tell them "Fine, you stay home today. But don't expect anything from me today. I am ignoring you the whole morning and you'll have to entertain yourself." And they agree to that. and when they start misbehaving, I tell them "Shape up right now. I told you that you can't expect anything from me right now, I won't help you solve your fight, I won't interfere, and I don't want to deal with your fighting on top of your refusal to go to school." And it works.

Then I feel like it's hopeless. Like my boys will refuse to go to school every single morning, that they won't learn Swahili, that every morning will be a battle... and then I get pleasantly surprised by a smooth morning like today.

Its weird.

On the grand scheme of things, Lee is having a much easier time transitioning to school than Ike is. Lee really loves his teacher, and I see the feeling is mutual. We had a PTA meeting last night, and Lee's teacher told me just how impressed he was with him. That he admires how, even though he doesn't understand much, he sits patiently, paying attention to try to figure out what the teacher is saying. And how Lee is very well behaved. And how he gets such enjoyment watching Lee draw such beautiful pictures and write things well, etc. On days that Lee doesn't show up in school, the teacher calls us up and tells Lee how much he missed him. The teacher's name means "Dear" and it is so suitable, since he is such a sweetheart.
There are issues that Lee has in school, some of them simple ("I don't want to wear my shoes all day, but my teacher won't let me take my shoes off"), some more complex ("It's hard for me to sit still so long in class when I don't understand what is going on") and I reassure Lee that I will speak to his teacher about the issue, and the teacher is willing to make exceptions for Lee because he understands that this transition isn't easy for him, and allows him to leave the class to take a break to play when it's getting too much, allows him to color in his seat while the teacher is talking, and is cool with him taking off his shoes.
But the biggest issue Lee has is that he doesn't understand what is flying in class much of the time. Usually the teacher explains/teaches something, then gives the class coloring sheets about the topic, at which point Lee finally understands what the teacher was talking about. And there are topics they're learning in school that we've already covered at home, and those are topics that Lee has an easier time with when they're learning in school, because then he just has to figure out the language instead of the information the teacher is relaying as well... So last night, I spoke with the teacher and he agreed to give Lee the coloring sheet at the start of the lesson, so that he has a visual cue about what the teacher is teaching the class, to help him try to understand, and he also agreed to send me the lesson plans in advance, so I can familiarize Lee with the topics before class, which will help him understand the language better.
I am very happy at how readily the teachers are working with me and Lee to help work around these issues.

Lee is picking up Swahili at a pretty decent pace. He comes home with new words in Swahili on a regular basis. And his Swahili didn't start from zero, which has helped him out. After just one week of being in school, he started playing with his Swahili speaking classmate who happens to live 2 houses away from us! (Out of 12 kids in his class- just our luck that a really sweet boy lives practically next door!) Lee's Swahili is pretty rudimentary, and he and the boy can't have complex conversations together, but I see they are able to communicate what they want to teach other, and have fun playing together. And that has been the best result of sending Lee to school- now he's not too intimidated to play with Swahili speaking kids, and is increasing his socializing opportunities because of that.
And on top of that, the boys in his class really like him, and look up to him. (Literally as well. He's a head taller than them all, since he is a year older.) I get such a kick out of it, that when I bring him to school, especially when we come late and class already started, I hear the class cry out excitedly "Lee is here! Lee is here!!!" They ask him to help them build lego stuff together, ask him to help them with things he's good at, ooh and ahh over his drawings, etc... Which is really good for Lee, because instead of feeling like a stupid idiot who can't communicate in Swahili, he feels special. Overall, Lee is fine with school. He'd prefer to be homeschooled, but doesn't dislike school. He just thinks the school day is too long... (Its from 8:45-1:20... hardly a long school day...)

Now Ike is having a much, much, much harder time.
He comes home from school happy, says he had a good day... but the teacher told me that sometimes he just sits by himself in the classroom, not really wanting to participate. There is one boy that he actually plays with, another English speaking boy... And at the start of the year, he was having a really really hard time transitioning to school.
One day I felt like an evil mother, my heart was breaking. As soon as we got to the schoolyard, he pulled out of my hands and ran the other way, out of the schoolyard, and I had to run after him and catch him, and drag him to the classroom, where the teacher literally had to hold his hand to stop him from running after me when I left, as he cried. You have no idea how hard that was for me. But that afternoon, I felt better, because I asked Ike how he felt about my having done that that morning, and if he was upset at me for that, and he said no, he wasn't upset, I could do that again, because he likes school and had a good day.
Most mornings, at the start of the school year, I sat with him at the play tables for the first 5-10 minutes, to help him transition better. He'd color or play a game, with me there beside him, and some days when I went to leave, he cried a bit, but then I hugged him and cheered him up, and I left without him crying. Other days, he'd be too enraptured by what he was doing and he'd ignore me when I told him I was leaving, and I had to actually get his attention to say goodbye. But since most mornings my departure was with sadness, I asked some similarly minded friends (who don't have the attitude that its good to toughen up kids by making them cry) what they suggested doing, and this is what they recommended. They said to transition with my kids, by telling them before we left for school what the next few hours would entail- that we'd get dressed, walk or take the bus to school, and then we'd go into the classroom, and Ike would play with the toys and Mommy would sit with him, and then Mommy would leave, and Ike would probably get sad, and might even cry, and that's ok, because Ike is just sad because he loves Mommy, and Mommy loves Ike too, but Ike will have a fun day in preschool, and Mommy will be going home to get work done, etc... and then Mommy will come pick him up. And that a) knowing in advance what will happen before it does would help and b) that I am acknowledging and validating his feelings and not trying to make him feel bad for feeling sad, would also help...
And it really did. Ike stopped crying when we got to school, and would go into class easily. First we had this thing where he'd tell me how many kisses and hugs he wanted me to give him and how many he wanted to give me, and we'd do that, and then he'd walk into the classroom happily, but now he doesn't even need to do that, and I just give him a kiss, say goodbye, and he happily goes into the classroom.
While he's inside, he doesn't really participate so much because of the language barrier, but he isn't crying or moping and has fun with the projects and the toys, so... And since there is an improvement, I'm hopeful.
But Ike still tells me nearly on a regular basis "I'm never going to school anymore! I know how to speak Swahili, so I don't need to go to school anymore." But of course, that is not true. He maybe has a few words in Swahili, and that's it... and that's partially why he's having a hard time transitioning...
Ike's teacher also agreed to tell me in advance the subjects they'd be covering in class, so I can practice those specific words with Ike and familiarize him with the topic...

I spoke both with the principal and school psychologist (both wonderful people) and came up with a plan to help the kids have an easier time transitioning to school. We spoke about potentially making the day shorter for them, either by coming later or leaving earlier, but after the conversation, they convinced me of the logic of not taking them out earlier or bringing them later (math is the last subject of the day for Lee, and math is the subject he has the easiest time in, for example... and that the boys have free play before lessons start, which helps them transition from the stress of the morning routine to allow them to be able to concentrate in class, not to mention the socializing involved, which is easier for the kids than the times when they have to focus on what the teacher is saying in Swahili...) so I am not (intentionally) doing that anymore... Only once in a blue moon.
What they did recommend to me was to have more play dates with the classmates outside of school, so they look forward to coming to school to see that friend. They also suggested that I buy a certain book that has 1000 first Swahili words for kids, and review it with them.... We didn't even need to buy it, because my in laws had it in their house- it was my husband's book when he was a kid, to help him learn Swahili when he first moved to this country from South Africa. The kids like the book, and we're working on language acquisition with them via the book.
Another recommendation they made was to a) give something in their lunch box that they'd look forward to, and to have a rewards system. I built the rewards system in a way that it would taper off eventually.
What I did was buy stickers that are 3D and actually look like small gemstones. (My kids are in love with "diamonds" and collect such things in their treasure box.) Each day that the boys go to school, they get a "diamond" sticker, and after a certain amount of stickers, they'd get a small prize. First I gave a prize after 6 days, then I'm increasing it to 10 days, then 15, etc... until eventually I stop giving prizes, just the "diamond stickers" which are a small present on their own, because of my kids' love for "treasures"... and then eventually, when we run out of those, hopefully my kids will be accustomed enough to school already that they won't need that motivation for school.

Anyhow, so as you see... school for the kids isn't the easiest transition for the kids.

And as for me... I'm finding it hard also. The biggest hardship for me is that I'm not a stickler to schedules. i am more of a "free spirit" who finds deadlines and schedules very restrictive. I like to be spontaneous, and to change my schedule based on what I feel like doing... and then being in school doesn't allow it. Their school day is so short that by the time I get them there (especially on days that they're running late), I have such a short amount of time until I have to go back to school and pick them up. I can go to the city to do stuff, yes, but usually only one or two short errand, instead of a whole list of errands I would get done if I didn't have to be back on time to pick them up from school at 1:20... So I'm constantly stressing about making it back on time for them... Or if I'm at home, I feel like its barely any time to get anything done while they're out... On some days, I feel like I'm spending more time getting to and from the school, for drop off and pick up, than I have at home without the boys, to get things done.
On top of that, I'm really working on getting Anneliese on a better schedule. She goes to sleep way too late, in part because she naps late... So finally I'm trying to get her to nap earlier... which she often does at 12 or 12:30... and then I have to wake her up when she is still tired, in order to leave the house at 1 to go pick them up from school... And when I do that, she is still tired, and crashes at 6 pm, and wakes up at 8 pm from her second nap, and is ready to go to sleep for the night only at 1 or 2 am...
When she has her full nap, starting at 11, and I don't have to wake her up to pick up the boys, she goes to sleep for the night happily at 8... And the same happens when I ask a friend to pick up my boys and let Anneliese sleep as much as she needs to...
So this pick up is really making my life harder...
And on some days, when I feel they need it, I just let the boys stay home with no fuss. And those days are beautiful. And I wish every day could be like that... but then I remember that I am sending them to school for a reason, because they really need to learn the language...

I've had so many doubts, back and forth, whether I should pull them out of school or keep them in there... but as the days go by, I'm seeing the boys are getting more and more used to school, and having an easier transition. Especially since they know they're just going to school for the year.

So there you have it... An update on the boys being in school.

Have you homeschooled your kids, and then sent them to school? What did you do to help them transition? Were you happy with the decision or did you regret it? What do you think of the tips I was given? Would they have worked with your kids?
If you have any further tips for me that you think will help my kids transition more easily to school, I'm happy to hear them.


  1. It sounds like you're doing an excellent job. Your comments about Anneliese's nap remind me of my days with my youngest. Could you ever make a deal with the mommy of the closest boy to bring yours home when she picks up her son? I often found that other moms didn't mind at all bringing mine home (I always worried I was burdening them) and then my daughter could sleep. Keep up the great work!!!

    1. The close neighbor's mom pays for him to stay in an afternoon program after school, so he isn't coming home at the same time, so that doesnt work. I do have another local person who walks to pick up his kids from school, and on occasion he has picked up mine, and i have picked up his, but I can't ask them to do it on a regular basis...

  2. my son started school too this year. But He is 11. He has been homeschooled until now, but he wanted to give it a try. I would much rather homeschool him, but I believe in letting him experience all that I can. I was not willing to go to public school with him, but he is in a private school. He is enjoying it but says that he would rather be homeschooled. But he understands that we had to pay quite a bit for him to go to this school so he is there for the full year. At the end of the year, we will re-evaluate. If he wants to continue in school, great, if he wants to come home again, also great. But we are committed to sticking out this year. Nini2033a@yahoo.com

    1. What does he prefer about homeschooling? What are his issues with his private school? Just curious- you don't have to answer if you don't want to.

  3. Can you switch off with that neighbor? So you at least get some better days?

    1. The problem is that that neighbor pays extra to send her kid to an afterschool program, so he ends 3 hours later than my sons do...

  4. I love how proactive and supportive the school has been in getting them used to the environment. Sounds like a great school!

    1. It really is. I am quite happy with the choice.

  5. I wonder -- do you speak Swahili at home at all? If you do not, it might be helpful to both of your boys... especially Ike. If you're not speaking Swahili at home at all, he might see it as "I don't like this language, This language is useless. I don't like school. I only have to know Swahili because of school, and I hate school, so I don't want to learn Swahili. If I didn't go to school, I wouldn't have to learn Swahili." ...and I bet some of the dislike stems from not being able to understand things. ... So if you start to use Swahili at home, everyone gets to practice and learn more, and become more comfortable with it.

    1. So, Mike grew up in this country, but in an English speaking home, and is more comfortable in Swahili than English when it comes to reading and writing, but equally comfortable in both when speaking. I grew up in the US and came here when I was 16, so I'm really not as comfortable in Swahili. I can speak fine most of the time, but my reading and writing makes me feel stupid. I am not comfortable enough in the language to speak it in our house full time- when I'm tired, angry, frustrated, upset, or otherwise emotional I lose the words in Swahili, and I feel limited in what I can say because my vocabulary isn't as expansive in Swahili as it is in English, and I do want to be comfortable enough in my home to express myself. And it is important to myself and Mike that the kids have a good English, as it is a very valuable skill... So what happens is the books I read the kids are generally in English, because I struggle with my Swahili reading... Swahili tends to be spoken between myself and Mike usually just when we have something we want to say privately without the kids knowing... but as their Swahili improves it doesn't work as a "secret code"... We're trying to remember to have set times in the day when we speak Swahili at home, but I rarely remember...

    2. I have heard that when people want to teach children multiple languages they get one adult to each speak exclusively in one of them (i.e. I have a cousin with an English-speaking mom, "Swahili" speaking dad, and I think Spanish speaking nanny, and he speaks all three, because they each use their language with him). Could Mike maybe speak to the kids in Swahili and you speak English?

    3. That would work if we were doing that from the start, but the problem is that the kids don't speak swahili at the moment, and if Mike speaks to them in Swahili, they won't understand it...

    4. (I was the anon who posted the first comment in this thread <3)

      You have some pretty good reasons for not speaking in Swahili at home... but.. you also have some really GOOD reasons for doing it too. It sounds to me like YOU would benefit from speaking it as well. It'll make you more comfortable in it, in time. :)

      I bet that if you guys decided to speak in Swahili "all the time" for a week, it might help everyone a lot. Then again, a week is a long time, especially with little ones, so maybe better to speak Swahili entirely for a day or two, then English for a day or two. Or maybe you can make random games to decide what language to speak in on a given day.. maybe a piece of paper out of a hat or a dart thrown at a board, or a coin toss!

      Of course, it's good to have some rules too-- like, on Swahili days, everyone speaks Swahili, until after dinner, so everyone can have an hour or two speaking english before bed. Or rules for when they can speak in english. As a kid, I would have done well if I had some "get out of Swahili free" cards that I could use during the day if I was getting too frustrated or tired. But I really liked having things I could hold in my hand and keep up with, and having to give one up would have made me think carefully about if I wanted to use one or not. Especially if I had some sort of reward for not using them.. like each one left at the end of the day was a 'point' and when I get so many points, I got a reward. Maybe something like: 3 points per day, when they get 6 points saved, they can get a bigger sticker, that they can save for a reward. Or maybe you could teach them about currency and trade with this: they can save the points they don't use, then use those points to buy things later--maybe 5 points is a extra treat one day, or getting to stay up an hour past bedtime one day. Be sure to have small rewards and big ones too (50 points for a special dinner, or a trip out to a special fun place). As a kid, I would always save for the big ones! On the other hand, my brother who would hate having to keep up with points, or would use them all right away, and would spend all of his saved points on the small prizes. :) You know your kids best!

      Anyway, make some rules and make sure that EVERYONE listens to them, even you!

      Maybe try and come up with some fun activities that you can do on a Swahili day that they can't do otherwise. Maybe read a favorite book, but work together to translate it. Or read books in Swahili and translate them to English! Or even just reading a story you think they would find exciting and interesting to them in Swahili might be a good way. :) Or, make your own board games or card games! You can make a board like chutes/snakes and ladders and make cards that have phrases written on them in Swahili, english, or both. And you and your kids can make new cards to keep the game interesting!

      Oh, this game is would be fun too: http://www.elsewhere.org/discordian/bwcards.html (it's a good kid game, but some parts of that page are *slightly* more adult, so read alone, at first. :) )

      But, I think that it would probably be really good for YOU to become more comfortable too, and I think that using it more will help your kids AND you. It's okay if you lose your words sometimes--it might be even good for the kids to see that even mom gets frustrated sometimes. But the ONLY way to get better is practice! Practice.. and immersion. You pick up a language a lot faster when it's all around you and you need to speak it. :)

    5. Goodness, I hope it didn't eat my other reply! :(
      Also, if you leave the computer on all day, I could help you find a program that would turn your computer into an alarm clock to help remind you when Swahili speaking hours are. :)

    6. Uneko, it didn't eat your other very long, thought out reply. There is just moderation before things get posted to block spam.

      Your ideas are great for when their grasp of swahili is a little better. If we had swahili only hours, Ike wouldn't be able to say a THING, because he can't talk in swahili, other than a few random words here and there...
      But once his has a basic grasp, that could be a good way to improve it.

    7. That's good, whew! I didn't see a moderation message like I remembered before :) maybe I missed it. :) I'm glad it was helpful though.. I hope it helps, in the future as well :)

      Good luck with your swahili speakers :)

  6. I was wondering the same thing - although I feel like you talked about that in your original post on why you were sending them to school this year. Do you and your husband not speak the local language? If you do, can you not accomplish the learning by simply speaking the local language at home? Just wondering. I think everything you wrote it great - and I especially love the response you are getting from the school. One of my boys just went back to school this year for high school after being homeschooled since 2nd grade - and I miss him!! He's doing well in school, though, and I think it's the best thing for him. I still have two at home, so that helps!

    1. How is your son enjoying school? How did you decide to send him? I responded above regarding speaking Swahili at home.

    2. Yes - I saw that! Thanks for answering. I think it's so great that you want them to be bi-lingual, for lots of reasons. In terms of my son, he's mostly enjoying school. I think it's a big change for him in terms of the workload - mostly because of homework. As you know, with homeschool (even in the upper grades), he worked during the day and was done by mid-afternoon. Now, he's in school until 3pm AND has homework at night. It's difficult on him because he wants to come home and relax, so some days it's a battle. He enjoys the social aspect though, and as he's figuring out his time management, the other will get easier. He went back because my older son also is at the same high school. They are both very athletic, and wanted the experience of high school sports. Also, we live very near their school, which is a superb Catholic high school, so it's easy to be part of the larger community there. Academically, they offer some very rigorous classes that I might not be comfortable teaching. My older son, especially, needs that challenge. I am not opposed to doing high school at home, and I would for my two younger boys (3rd and 5th grade now) if either of them wanted to be home through high school. But it seemed like the right decision for the two older ones.

  7. It's great that you are giving your kids an opportunity to participate in their local community by going to school. At the end of the day, unfortunate as it is, our society runs on schedules and group work and systems of authority. Allowing your kids to go to school will allow them to learn these lessons when they have no real responsibility on them. I know that homeschooling can work well for some kids, and I know many for whom it has. However, I know probably more who have grown up and have a really hard time "fitting in." I'm glad your kids will have at least some experience of a commonly shared experience of school. I chuckled to myself when you said about your son having a hard time keeping his shoes on. My husband still has that problem and he is in his 30s!
    I hope everything works out well for your family.

  8. Maybe it would help if you started putting them on a schedule; at the very least, a regular bedtime is absolutely required, one that gives them at least 12 hours of sleep. So many things are linked to a simple matter of not having enough sleep.

  9. I had to comment.. I moved internationally and am also learning a new language. My kids are in school and fully integrated because they are little and I spoke what I knew of the language from the beginning.. But now, they don't understand English so well! I started repeating whatever I say in English. So if I say a color, I repeat the translation in English. This helps them get familiar with all the daily words. Sometimes I make fun of a word if it sounds funny and I get them to repeat it. You'll be surprised how kids will throw in a new word here and there, and it's so cute if its in a different accent! By now it doesn't come naturally to speak English to them because I've trained myself to speak the other language-- I have learned the most by speaking with my kids-- I'm not embarrassed to make mistakes, and if they learn it wrong from me, they will learn how to speak correctly in school and from others.. And I learn from my kids too! Anyways.. Keep it up, beginnings are never easy, but it gets easier!

  10. Can you carpool with the neighbor boy? So perhaps you take all the kids in the morning and his mother brings all the kids home in the afternoon? Growing up, we were always carpooling with other families going to the same schools. It's a help to everyone.



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